President, Werner Electric Supply (Minn.)
By Joe Nowlan
Anybody expressing skepticism about the benefits of job fairs will have to answer to Ben Granley.
As a senior at Dunwoody College of Technology in Minneapolis, he attended a job fair on campus. While he had heard about the electrical industry in general, Granley was considering the possibility of working for a contractor or perhaps an engineering firm.
“I was one of the few guys there wearing a tie that day,” he said, laughing at the memory.
Walking through the job fair, Granley admits he wasn’t very impressed, as there were few electrical companies in attendance. Werner Electric Supply, however, was there.
Granley introduced himself to then-President Kevin Powell and explained how he was about to graduate with a degree in electrical design. At the time, Werner’s best job opening was for a warehouse supervisor.
“Well, for the past four years I had been doing warehousing for Circuit City,” Granley explained. “Plus, I just got my degree in electrical design. So I knew the warehousing and the electrical side.”
Over the next 10 years, Granley advanced to various positions—including building project manager and vice president of operations—before being named president of Werner in 2012 at the age of 31. (He succeeded Powell when Powell moved to Van Meter Inc.)
Looking back on some of his titles at Werner, Granley focused on a couple of positions that were particularly important learning experiences.
As warehouse manager, “I had almost 30 direct reports, [with] the majority of them in the union,” Granley explained. “So having never been in that situation before, I learned a lot about labor contracts and employee relations. It was a great experience right away in my career.”
As building project manager, he was put in charge of a project to build the company’s new corporate headquarters and distribution center.
“It was in two phases. The first phase was to find the land and then build the building,” he said. “Then the second phase was moving everything. We broke ground in September 2007. And we were up and running by May 2008. It was a 140,000-foot facility that we took from a green field to a fully operational facility in less than a year.”
Granley and his wife Maney have a two-year-old son, Mason. He is also attending the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management in pursuit of his MBA. He takes one or two classes a semester and estimates it will take him about three years to complete.
Ironically, or perhaps appropriately, Granley still gets to a job fair now and then.
“We’re trying to connect with the local job market and the college fairs,” he explained. “That is something I do on a regular basis to get them to understand that there is a whole world here that they probably never had to think about. There are a lot of opportunities. Once you figure it out though, our industry is kind of a hidden gem. And there are a lot of folks that stay in the industry for that reason.”
Q. What advice do you have for other young professionals in the electrical industry?
A. The biggest thing is that there are a lot of opportunities, especially over the next 10 years. There will be a lot of folks who will be retiring. I think there’s going to be a lot of changes from an organizational standpoint. There will be businesses that will do things differently. There will be a lot of consolidation.
[Companies] are going to need better talent and more people. There are going to be voids that will need to be filled. How are [young employees] going to prepare themselves to take these challenges on? Once the opportunity presents itself, if you’re not prepared, it’s already too late. You have to be thinking more of where you want to be in ten years and start working like you’re gunning for that job now. You never quite know when that opportunity is going to present itself.
And I learned that firsthand. When Kevin [Powell] moved on to one of our parent companies; that happened more quickly than I thought it was going to, so you have to be prepared and always be ready and be studying for those things so that when the opportunity presents itself, you’re in a position to win.
Q. Do you ever run into difficulty commanding respect in the company? If so, how do you manage that?
A. When I look at our team internally, I think the group has a lot of respect for me but I’ve got almost 10 years of working with these people, partnering with them, helping them solve problems. For me, there are a lot of folks internally that know me and look past the age and understand my capabilities and talents. We can connect with that.
I think when you look outside of the organization…the initial impression is always “You’re so young. I can’t believe you’re president.” Some of the contractors will make funny jokes. I had one guy say, “Gee, when did they start letting interns be president?” So there’s been some fun with it, too.
Folks don’t get hung up on those initial impressions for too long. Once they get to know you and want to build that relationship and once you work with them, they really start to understand and they realize that I’m in the right position at the company and that I’m a good partner and am going to help them solve problems and help them grow their business.
Joe Nowlan is a Boston-based freelance writer/editor and author. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Tagged with tED